Monday, March 31, 2008

I'm in Austin, TX

And there are tornado warnings for the county.

Just so you know.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Personal Note to my Personal Critic (the rest of you are free to listen in. . .)

No, hisstoryun, I'm not ignoring you. It's just that, as a preacher, I tend to have more time earlier in the week to work on this blog thing. . .and the later the week goes, and the more I'm in the midst of preparing for the coming Sunday (writing sermons and all), I have less time to wax eloquent in here. It's just the ebb and flow of the tide of my brain capacity as the weeks start and finish. So no, I don't think you're a kook. I was just busy writing a sermon and preparing for confirmation class and planning a Futuring meeting tonight and organizing a mission team meeting for tomorrow night. . .and spending time with all those who came in to visit - the church chair, our visitation intern, our quilting ladies, our homeless outreach. Life gets busy at times.

However, I still don't think you understand how I'm trying to nuance this. You say "Yes Jesus lived as a man with all of the limitations that come with that in terms of physical earth of course. But He also showed us that He was God too." We're in agreement there. I've never said that Jesus stopped being God; or at least I've never meant to imply that.

You also say If God embraced humanity becoming a man like us, giving up His Godhood, for the purpose of teaching us how to live (according to this theology) then it stands to reason that He also must have had a sin nature like us. Here we can start to disagree. Jesus was not just A man, he was the perfect man. He was fully man. In some sense, I don't think the sin nature is something added, but something taken away. When Adam sinned, I don't think he added a new component known as "sin nature," I think he lost something; namely, the ability to walk face-to-face in perfect harmony with the God of life. Jesus was a man in the sense that Adam was a man - lacking sin, walking in harmony with the God who gives life.

Now, let me see if I can say this any clearer. Jesus was God incarnate. No doubts here. But Jesus chose to live as a human, under the same human limitations as the rest of us, solely relying on God the Father to work in and through him as he walked on the earth. He WAS God, he just CHOSE to not act as God, instead choosing to act as the perfect man (which he also was) to lead us unto salvation. I think this is what Jesus was getting at in John 15:10 - "just as I have kept my father's commands and remain in his love."

And with that, I've got to run.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Emergent goes niche

From the Emergent Village Weblog:

"people from many different streams of Christianity started finding some inspiration, hope, and community through Emergent Village—and then they started to find each other. . .All of this has resulted in a number of hybrid groups:

- Luthermergent (Lutheran)
- Methomergent (Methodist)
- Presybymergent (I think you can guess. . .)
- Reformergent (Reformed)
- Submergent (anabaptist)
- Anglimergent (Anglican/Episcopal)
- AGmergent (Assemblies of God)

{end quote}

Not being a person who particularly likes labels, part of me wants to find all this a little troubling. One of the things I've liked about the emergent movement is its ability to cross denominational lines. This all seems to only standardize those lines a bit. And, as you're well aware, I think branding is antithetical to the Gospel, yet all too often Christians get more excited about the brand than they do the Gospel. They run off to retreats and become Purpose-Driven men who are Wild at Heart about their Captivating Women, and their children all Acquire the Fire and become Radically Saved!

The danger, of course, is that people just become excited about the labels and shiny attachments, without ever dealing with the heart of the matter.

All that being said, the emergent village folks find it exciting, and I'm trying to not be too curmudgeonly in my old age, so I'll end the negativity there. Perhaps some good conversations can come out of all this, after all, so long as the Presbys and AGs and Anglicans keep talking to each other about the heart issues, and not just remain in their camps with a new label to set them over/against all the old-fashioned Presbys and AGs and Anglicans.

Finally, anybody have the link to the Covmergent cohort?

The following weather brought to you by the Council for Global Warming

Scot is complaining about the snow in Chicago.

Randall is complaining about the snow in Saskatchewan.

And yes, we got snow and hail yesterday, with the lows tonight and tomorrow below freezing.

Didn't spring arrive last week?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Legend of YHWH

I finally got around to watching "I Am Legend" last night.

Sure, it's creepy. Yes, it's got flesh-eating zombies wandering Manhattan, looking for anything and everything on which to gorge. And of course it throws enough curveballs at you to make you jump out of your skin.

But after it was over, I told the wife that it was one of the best Christian movies I'd ever seen. In fact, if you were challenged to create a movie that was a metaphor for the biblical story, one that would be accepted and embraced by 21st-Century, post-Christian culture, you'd have a hard time topping this one.

Think of it - a "virus" infects humanity, turning men and women into violent, inhuman beasts. Perfectly fits C.S. Lewis' version of sin turning people into unearthly monsters.

+++++Plot Spoiler Alert+++++

And where is the antidote for that virus? When Robert Neville (aka Will Smith) puts the vial into Anna's hand, what does he tell her? "It's in the blood."

And what price does he pay to deliver that antidote?

And where are Anna and Ethan heading - where is the Survivor's Colony? Bethel. Which is Hebrew for "House of God."

Oh, and this. What is God's name as revealed to Moses? Right. Now go look at the movie title again.

+++++/Plot Spoiler Alert+++++

I've seen other zombie movies, and find they are usually simply gore-fests attempting to scare us or make social commentary on nuclear weapons. I Am Legend is much more thoughtful, focusing more on the angst of loneliness and the sorrow of death than on gratuitous violence and blood splatter. In fact, I was more disturbed by the zombies in Night of the Living Dead than by these CG zombies.

Sure, I would never let Olivia see this movie. And I don't think I'll be showing it at church any time soon. But if you have eyes to see it,

Jesus is all over this movie.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weekend Update

Our friends The Gibbs from Turlock came up and joined us for Easter weekend. Chelsea came over and spent Saturday night with us, while the rest of the family headed off to their hotel on Hood Canal. Sunday morning they came back (with all the relatives) for our Easter service, at which Chelsea played her flute with the worship team. It was like old times. . .made me a little nostalgic to hear her play In Christ Alone.

On Monday I played tour guide and took them all to Seattle for the day. We did the Traditional Seattle tour - took the ferry into town, lunch at Ivar's, fed the seagulls, an hour at Pike Place Market, walked over to Westlake Center and rode the Monorail to Seattle Center, walked around the Center Fountain and Key Arena, then went up the Space Needle for an hour. . .then reversed the trip and took the ferry home, finishing with dinner at Anthony's in Bremerton. And the day couldn't have been better - sunny with distant clouds, relatively warm, with none of the Summer Tourist Crowd to gum things up.

As to Sunday itself, the High Holy Day, it rained all day, and that put a little damper on things. Plus, a lot of our people are sick these days, which put a further damper on things. For those who showed up, it was a marvelous time of worship and celebration; the food was warm and the fellowship was sincere. But the Sunrise Service was off by 50%, mostly due to the incessant rainfall, and the morning service was one of the lowest services in the last two years. That I attribute mostly to all the sickness going around. I wonder, too, if Easter coming so early didn't affect it some. We usually get a lot of weekenders who've come out to their vacation homes, but with the bad weather, and being so early in March, I'm wondering if most of them didn't just stay in Seattle and Tacoma and Bellevue.

Ah, well. A long time ago I gave up worrying about numbers, trying to interpret every little sign. God was glorified and his people edified, and I continue to be excited and amazed at the way this little community church blesses the people of this area, how they jump in and cover for people who are sick, how they sing an extra 2 or 3 songs and don't even mind, how we can add a pink-haired flautist and they all think that's cool. God is good, and his people are good.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Did He Know, and When Did He Know it, Part 2

So Erin had to go and suggest I actually bring scripture into the discussion. . .

First, though, let me respond to a couple comments left by Hisstoryun underneath that post.

"(I wonder what led you to your conclusion that Jesus was only a man. It is not biblical (as you put it) for scripture does not support the idea. It is noteworthy too that you offer no supporting scripture for your theory. On the contrary, scripture supports the opposite idea that Jesus is indeed God.)"

You misunderstand my point. If that's because of my lack of clarity, I apologize. I never meant to imply that Jesus only a man. Along with Paul in his letter to the Colossians, I believe that "in him the fullness of deity dwelled." I affirm the ancient teaching that Jesus was fully God, and fully human. I simply suggested that Jesus set aside his prerogative to access his divinity while he walked on earth. He never ceased being divine; he simply chose to fully embrace humanity for the 30-some years he walked on earth.

"If Jesus had somehow given up His role and rightful place as God, how then could He be the Savior of the world because as such he surely would have been a fallible sinner the same as you or me?"

I disagree. It was exactly because he gave up his role and rightful place, and remained the spotless Lamb, that he became the Savior of the World. Now, if you're understanding of the atonement is locked into a Penal Substitution Model, in which the Perfect Infinite God had to pay the Eternal Infinite Price for our sin, then you need the Infinite Jesus to die for you; in fact, you don't really need Jesus to become human. But if you start to lean toward a Recapitulation Theory, then it becomes extremely important that, in fact, he lived the perfect human life in all its fullness - a life not relying on his own powers, but a life grounded in a relationship with his Father, who was the source of strength and life.

I appreciate the work you put into your reply; obviously, you put much time and energy into it. Unfortunately, I think you're arguing against a position that I wasn't taking in the first place. Again - I'm not saying that Jesus was "just a man." I'm saying that, when God took on human form in Jesus, God embraced that humanity to the fullest. Jesus was God, but Jesus chose to lay aside the "special position and abilities" due God - not that he didn't have them; he just chose not to use them. In that way, he showed for the rest of us what True Life looks like - the way humanity was intended to be, living in perfect communion with our own heavenly father.

Okay, back to Erin.

I think, to begin with, it comes to a question of philosophy and interpretation. The scriptures teach that Jesus was God and man. They don't teach how that worked. They don't give us any schematics. They just show Jesus at work, suffering and hurting like a human, yet performing miracles and showing "special insight" that must be attributed to God's power.

Most of us start with the preconceived idea that Jesus was kind of Superman - he looked human alright, but he had all these special, non-human powers. We point toward the verses that seem to imply this - the miracles, the Words of Knowledge - as proof, all the while ignoring (or explaining away) any verses that would seem to indicate otherwise.

But the scriptures also teach a Jesus that is human. A Jesus who gets angry, a Jesus who gets tired and hungry. And there are places where it seems Jesus' truly is lacking in information. Such as at the feeding of the 5000. "How much food do we have?" Some will say "he's just testing them - he already knows the answer." But that's an assumption based on a preconceived idea; it's not what the text says. Same as when the woman who had bled 12 years touches his cloak, and he turns around "trying to find out who touched him." Again, some say "he knew, he was just asking for her benefit." But that's an assumption placed onto the text; it's not what the text actually says.

Finally, there's this verse in John 14: "The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work."

I think there is a huge insight into Jesus' life here. Phillip has just asked "show us the Father," and Jesus replies "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father." He's talking about this interplay, this interconnectedness between himself and the Father, but it seems to me that he's saying that all he's taught and done he's done not by how own authority, but by the power of the Father working in and through him.

This also makes sense of Hebrews 4, where we are told "we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin." Now, if Jesus was operating in his own strength as God, then this is just a game - sure he was tempted, but he was God, so he couldn't sin. What use is that? But if Jesus was operating as a human, and lived and moved not in his own power but in the power he received out of his intimate relationship with God, then there is actually something here we can grab ahold of.

Think of it this way: Jesus the Divine comes and wanders around in all his divinity, smiting demons and raising the dead and speaking Words of Knowledge because he's God. It's nice to look at, but it's totally foreign to us and gives us nothing to emulate. In fact, we could never hope to live as Christ lived. . .so why try? He's like Superman.

Or think of it this way - Jesus, though God, lays aside the rights and privileges of Godhood in order to experience humanity in its fulness (a la Phillipians 2). Now, one could argue that, since he was conceived of the Holy Spirit, he was lacking in the sin nature we all possess. I could go for that. But as Jesus grew, as he walked upon the earth, he lived and moved and had his being not in his own strength, but in the strength that he derived from his intimacy with the Father. The miracles he performed were not out of his own authority, but because he walked so closely with the Father. What he knew, he knew not because he had access to heaven's data bank, but because his mind was in one accord with the Father, and the Father revealed these things to him.

Here's why I like option 2:
- It takes the incarnation seriously. Either Jesus was fully human, or he wasn't. To take seriously his humanity, he could not live into the fulness of his Diety for that time.
- it takes seriously the verses that speak of Jesus' lack of knowledge, and all the times he is portrayed as fully human, rather than trying to "explain them away."
- It gives us a stronger mandate for discipleship. If Jesus was able to accomplish his works not because he has God's Power, but because he walked so intimately with the Father, then we have a call to walk intimately with the Father. We have this model laid before us that drives us to the Father for strength, for power, for understanding. It teaches us of the importance of relying on the Father.

It teaches us, in fact, that should we choose to walk intimately with the Father, as Jesus did, then we are living as Christ lived (what we're called to do in the first place), and that there is strength and power for us there.

I know, it seems foreign, and almost a little heretical, but I think if you go back and read the stories, and see how much Jesus relied on his relationship with the Father, if you go back and look at the anointing of Jesus at his baptism, if you look at the texts that speak of Jesus emptying himself. . .I think it's there, if you have eyes to see it.

You really should see this

Off and on I've asked you all to pray for the family of a worship leader I met through an online forum - his wife has cystic fibrosis, they had a daughter who was brought into this world much, much to early, as it was the only hope of saving mother and daughter.

Nate, Tricia, and Gwyneth's story just appeared on the news. Go watch it, rejoice at God's power working in their lives, and pray for strength and healing to continue there.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Emergent Atonement Contest

The winner in the Atonement Metaphor contest over at Emergent Village has just been posted, along with a couple runner-ups. You might even recognize one of the judges. . .

What Did He Know, and When Did He Know It?

I was recently involved in a discussion related to how much knowledge Jesus had during his time on earth. Being God incarnate, was Jesus omniscient? That's often the image passed down to us - the baby Jesus laying in the manger, knowing the fate that awaits him, feeling the limitation of this tiny body. Or of Jesus hanging on the cross, thinking about you and about me. It's as if his body is flesh and blood, human, but his mind is still divine, carrying the entire databank of Everything God Knows (almost sounds a little gnostic when I put it that way, doesn't it?)

I've come to believe that that image isn't accurate. I would posit that in becoming human, Jesus gave up all rights and privileges of godhood, choosing to rely completely in God the Father to guide and direct his life. In other words, the miracles of Jesus were not from any miraculous powers Jesus had, they came about because the Father was working through the Son. Because the Son walked so intimately with the Father, because the Son regularly communed with the Father, the Son became the vessel open to fulfilling the Father's will.

(Note: I know it gets tricky with that whole trinity thing. I'm a little uncomfortable with the way this image seems to divide up the Trinity. The only reason I prefer this image is that I think it's biblical. So what if it doesn't "make sense" to my finite mind?)

I believe the same would be said of Jesus' knowledge. I believe Jesus did not, in fact, carry around inside of himself any extra knowledge; I don't think he could do a data uplink into heaven and ascertain any extra knowledge. Instead, I think it's more biblical to look at Jesus as a prophet, who knew the future only insomuch as the Father revealed it to him. In choosing to humble himself a la Philippians 2, Jesus laid aside the ability to know the first from the last and the last from the first. Even in Matthew 11:27 Jesus hints that the Father gave to Jesus all that Jesus had. So, essentially what I'm saying is that Jesus himself grew into an understanding of the Kingdom, and his role in it, as he progressed through life, and that it was his relationship with the Father that allowed him insight into those around him, and what the future held.

So I was struck last night by this thought - when Jesus chose Judas to be one of the 12, did he already know Judas would betray him? That's the message that often preaches - "Imagine - even knowing what Judas would do, Jesus still chose him!" But what if that's not the case. What if Jesus saw a broken man who he thought he could fix? What if Jesus had full hope that Judas would turn from his brokenness and embrace the healing of the Kingdom of God? What if, all along, Jesus actually expected that Judas would finally, one day, get it right? After all, along the way it's not like the other disciples acted any better than Judas. So who's to say Jesus "knew" that Judas would betray him, any more than he was growing frustrated with the others?

And at the last supper, when Jesus said "one of you will betray me?" did he know it supernaturally? Or was he just wise to the ways of men; had he watched Judas' recent behavior? Had he seen Judas speaking to the Scribes and Pharisees? Did he have some inside knowledge, or was it more along the lines of a parent who just "knows" that their child is up to something?

I think it makes all the difference, really. If Jesus already knew, then Judas is blackballed from the beginning. But if not. . .then it tells us something about the heart of Jesus, and his love and compassion for even Judas, his hope and desire that even Judas would someday have ears to hear and eyes to see. It takes Judas from the role of Ultimate Bad Dude and puts him back in the category of just one more disciple who Jesus was trying to win over.

Mostly, if we see that Jesus loved and hoped for Judas, perhaps it will inspire us to be more loving and compassionate toward even those who betray us.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday Thoughts

Ben Witherington has posted a blog entry, pointing to the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev, former Premier of the Soviet Union, is now openly testifying that he is a Christian. Apparently, maybe he was a Christian all along; he just couldn't say it or they would have, well, shot him.

According to Ben, the Lord is doing great things in Russia these days - things we who remember the Cold War would never have expected.


Want to do Good Friday Old School?

Paraclete Press is inviting you to listen in as monastic members of the Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola share the Passion story from the Gospel of John in Latin, in Gregorian chant.

"Paraclete invites you to take part in a tradition that dates back to the eighth century, with the chanting of the Passion Narrative according to Saint John on Good Friday. . .Hear the voices of the Narrator, Christ, and the Synagogue, in this noble narration which brings to life with a dramatic immediacy the events of the Passion, as the Gospel account unfolds. Meditate on the English translation as you listen, and allow the ancient language of the text, and the special Gregorian chant tone reserved especially for this holy season, to add a new depth and solemnity to your understanding of this familiar story."

The audio and text will be available on their website tomorrow (Good Friday)


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I'm a travelin' Man

I am going to Austin, Texas in a couple weeks to attend a conference:

Transforming Culture: A Vision for the Church and the Arts

Speakers include Andy Crouch, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw, Sarah Masen, and John Wilson. Some of the seminars include "Visual Homiletics - How do we Preach to the Eye as Well as to the Ear?"; "The Spiritual Formation of Artists: Nurturing Heart and Mind"; "Leading Artists and the Beautiful Mess of their Mind"; "Beyond B-Movies and Church Bulletins: 10 New Ways the Church can Patron the Arts and Practice Common Grace."

I particularly like this piece from their website:

Does it matter how we treat the artists in our communities?
Most artists, whether in NYC or LA, in Seattle or Austin, want very little if anything to do with the Church. It strikes them more like a rationalist’s university classroom or a pragmatist’s business meeting than like anything resembling the rich world of God’s creation filled with all its supersensory wonder. They look at the Protestant Evangelical church and they see an aesthetically arbitrary arrangement. They see a fickleness about beauty. They see an imagination handicapped by Enlightenment presuppositions. Why should artists want to become members of a Church that either ignores, dismisses or rejects their nature and vocation? Yet they too are sheep Christ seeks to bring into his fold.

And this:


1. The arts and the corporate worship of the church (its liturgical actions and its sacred spaces).

2. The arts and the pastoral care of artists
(the discipleship and community formation of artists).

3. The arts and the renewal of the culture
(the impact against the zeitgeist, the redemption of the centers of art).

I think good things could come from this. As a musician, I have always sought ways to make worship more artistic, more beautiful. And we both know lots of artists who fit the above description perfectly - the last place they would visit is a typical evangelical Church. So perhaps we'll grow and learn in our ministry to artists, and perhaps we'll find some great ideas for incorporating art into our church life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Case Study in the Power of Language

Over the weekend, Seattle's Mars Hill Church opened up their newest location, in a former downtown bar. Personally, I think that's kind of cool. There's a huge metaphor here. This bar was notorious for the violence and mayhem it attracted. Many in the community were fed up with all the antics going on there. The Seattle Police Department was regularly called to break up fights among the drunken patrons.

Now, that place of darkness has been transformed into an outpost for the Kingdom of God. The Light has shined in the darkness, and the darkness has fled. This is what the Kingdom is supposed to look like: ground once held by the darkness taken and restored for the Kingdom of Light. I wish we would see more of this happening all over the city, all over the world.

However, that's not the purpose of today's post. I simply wanted to begin with some kudos so you don't think this is another Bash Mars Hill post. You can find those all over the internet, and I don't particularly want to join in. (That's not to say I don't have my own disagreements with the MH way of doing ministry, which I have blogged about in the past; just that I don't want you to think I'm a hater or anything). (By the By - if you have the stomach for it, and want to understand the way many people up here in the NW view MH and Christianity in general, just follow the link to the article, and then read the comments at the end. It's. . .frightening)

Here's what I want to focus on today. Tim Gaydos, the pastor of this particular branch, had this to say about the newest MH edition:

"We're all about Jesus," said Gaydos, a 33-year-old Seattle native. "We're not about religion. Religion sucks. ... And this is not your mom's or grandma's church."

This is a theme you hear quite often from a certain segment of Christianity. People who have decided that the Church has become irrelevant and musty and a little, well, nerdy. People who think we need to reshape and reframe the church in order to reach a new generation for Christ. People who have read Donald Miller and Erwin McManus and Brian McLaren and Rob Bell (note: I don't think any of those men would necessarily be represented by where I am about to go with this blog; they just ask some questions that then allow a second contingent to make less-than-profound statements such as the one above). The last time I picked up Relevant Magazine, I read this statement and many variations on it: "We're the NEW Church! We're Cool! We're Hip! We're Relevant! We're not like that old person's church anymore!"

I think there are at least three reasons why we need to cut this kind of language out of any conversation regarding the Church.

1) This language, and the thought behind it, is stolen directly from the Marketing Machine that drives American Consumerism. And the primary tool of that Marketing Machine is the Divide-and Conquer approach. Divide society up into niche markets, then sell your product to that niche market. And make it painfully obvious that anybody who doesn't identify with that niche is a nerd, a loser, an old person (horrors!), somebody to be laughed at and avoided at all costs. Come Be Like Us! Be Cool! Be Appreciated! Show Everybody How Cool You Are For Buying Our Product! Show Everybody That You Aren't A Loser Like Those Other People!

2) Which makes the next obvious point: the product is always sold over and against something else. We're cool because we're Not Like Them! Or we used to be like them, but now we're cool because we've discovered this new product. I used to be a loser; now I shave with Afta and all the hot girls pay attention to me. I used to be a loser, but then I bought the new Nicky Hilton line of clothing, and now I'm cool. The Church used to be a bunch of losers, but now we've rebranded, dumped that boring religion of all those Old People, and now we're cool. Come check us out!

3) All of which goes against the Biblical Call for the Unity of the Body. You see, one of The Primary biblical messages is that there is one church, and that we only reflect Christ when we live out that Unity in the Church. Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples by the way we love each other. Paul spoke powerfully of Christ tearing down dividing walls to create One New Humanity. Paul blasted Peter when Peter chose to stop dining with Gentiles. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and it is beautiful. Derek Webb attempts to speak for Jesus in singing "And you cannot care for me if you've no regard for her/If you love me, you will love the Church."

Therefore, it is wrong bordering on sinful to define ourselves over and against other churches, especially against the saints that have gone on before us. It is a cheap shot to make ourselves more attractive by demeaning our "mom's or grandma's" church. This kind of statement is demeaning, divisive, and the exact WRONG way to attract people into the Kingdom. In fact, we should be doing all we can to portray to the world that we are lovers, that we cherish our ancestors, that we honor those who have gone before; if anything, we honor all outposts of the Kingdom of God, regardless if they are "cool" or not. Sara Miles, in her "Take This Bread," states that one of the tougher things about becoming a Christian was realizing she had to be in the same family as a bunch of people she vehemently disagrees with. Yet, she says, it's God's family, so she'll do her part to get along and honor those who, outside of the Body, she would never have befriended. In other words, because we are all One in Christ, we respect one another, even if we don't particularly like, say, the music somebody else listens to.

I should say that I do admire the missional aspect of MH; I understand the crowd they are trying to reach and I love that they reach people my church probably never will. I applaud them for taking the Kingdom of God out onto the Highways and Byways, and that they get into the broken, stained, sinful lives of hurting people. They have faced a lot of opposition, and continue to thrive. May they continue to do so.

But it is time we all recognize that we dare not market the Church, nor even speak about the Body, in the divisive and destructive terms laid down by Madison Avenue. The strongest message we can send to the world is We're not like you - in fact, the message we bring is a lot better than anything you'll get out there. All that stuff being sold to you will only leave you empty. But here, life is different. We get along with people who aren't like us. Old people are actually kind of popular around here. And so are young people. But God loves us all, so we pretty much all love each other. And isn't that better than the empty loneliness you're trying to fill with aftershave?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tough Days to Preach

Sometimes there are just too many strands to be pulled in. Today is Palm Sunday - so preach on the triumphal entry. But the focus of the Mark 11 text is on the cleansing of the temple. So preach on that. But we're entering holy week, and I won't preach again until Easter, so we need to push on toward the cross. Can that fit in? And spring begins this Wednesday (here on the West Coast), and I usually like to preach on something related to creation and God's majesty around springtime. Finally, tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, and many choose to preach on something related to the life and ministry of St. Patrick.

Then, there's the problem of music. Music about the Triumphal Entry? (Hosanna, Hosanna. . .) The Temple Cleansing? (Derek Webb has a song or two about that, although our hymnbook doesn't seem to include any. . .) The Last Supper? The Cross? Music about creation, in honor of spring? (For the Beauty of the Earth, This is My Father's World. . .)? Or something to do with St. Patrick's Day? (Be Thou My Vision)

We almost need to have four different services today. Otherwise it's just too broad, and I can't focus. . .

Friday, March 14, 2008

More on the problem, or how I see it

More on yesterday's discussion regarding Jamieson and Hutcherson. . .

I tried to say this on Eugene's blog yesterday, but have been refining it in my head ever since. I'm still not sure this is in its final form, but here it is in process:

As Christians, we believe that our hope, our joy, our peace, our fulfillment is found in one place - in a relationship with the God who created us and loves us and redeems us. In fact, we would go so far as to stake the claim that for anybody, true hope, joy, peace, and fulfillment is found in one place only - in the redeeming love of God who gave his Son to rescue us from our broken lives. Finally, we would say that any hope for the future of our world and the societies in which we live is based in only this - the work of Christ's Spirit to mend back together our broken systems, redeeming and restoring all things back into the perfection in which they were created.

Part of that belief includes the related belief that there are actions, decisions, ways of living that are in harmony with God's work in the world, and that there are actions, decisions, and ways of living that are out of sync with God's work in the world. There are actions we take that lead toward Christ, and thus toward life; there are actions we take that lead away from Christ, and thus toward death. That second category, the actions that lead to death, we call "sin." And "sin" is not bad simply because it's arbitrarily labeled "sin," but because it leads the one who sins away from the Giver of Life.

Christians, then, work at this in their own life. It's called "discipleship." Taking every thought and action captive so that our choices and our actions reflect the will of the One who loves us and redeems us. Sin leads to pain, and obedience leads to life. While we all still sin, our ultimate goal is the pursuit of the life already given to us (I know that seems an oxymoron; blame Paul, since it's his theology. . .).

But we live in a world of people who reject the Christian message, which leaves a bit of a quandary. Do we "live and let live," knowing the choices of the world are only leading them further and further down the pathway that leads to death? Or do we attempt to bring our belief to bear on society, bringing the Gospel that leads to salvation to those who don't yet know?

Here is where the church often fails. For one, we often redefine "sin" as moral code and "sinners" as wrong. Hence, we work hard at "preaching at" sinners, making sure they know that we think they're sinners. For another, we too often focus on the action and not the person. "Sinner" becomes a category, not a real person with real feelings and desires and hurts and passions. "Sinner" implies (in the mind of many church-goers) somebody already on the way to hell, somebody to be avoided or yelled at, rather than a person created in the image of God, somebody already loved by God, somebody looking for hope and healing - just like we all are.

This is where the church has failed historically, and where many fail today.

However, there are those like Jamieson who seem to think that the church should simply change its message. That the church should be all loving and accepting and tolerant. They usually end up at the "judge not, lest ye be judged" place. To which I would respond "Yes - we should be loving, and gentle, and opposed to violence and prejudice at all levels, but at the same time we cannot stand by and in tolerance smile at people who are choosing to live lives that lead them away from the ultimate source of comfort and healing." At some point, it would be unethical and dishonest for us to pretend that all was well when, in fact, we believe that all is not well.

And this is the rub. On this issue, some want to be told "you're fine just as you are." But we can't tell anybody that. None of us are fine, just as we are. We all are held accountable for the decisions we make - whether they lead to life or death. I certainly don't agree with Rev. Hutcherson on a few things, and I wish he would be a little more careful in his public pronouncements, but on this we agree - we stand by the Word of God, which leads to life, and cannot affirm people for making choices that lead to death.

I have a friend who a few years ago told me he was gay. And he had decided he was okay with that. He knew what I believed to be the truth. The day he came out of the closet to me, we had a long talk about all of this. I told him I could not change my belief; in fact, it would make me a hypocrite if I did. He told me he accepted that, and he wouldn't try to change me, but he was content with who he was, and asked me not to try to change him. We affirmed out friendship. And we remained close friends until I moved a few states away.

Somehow, I think this is where we need to get. To love people because they are people, to encourage people to make choices that lead to life, to explain why dealing with sin is so important, but in the end, to respect people's choices, rather than flinging rocks at each other. Most churches need to learn the meaning of "It's your kindness that leads to repentance." But, on the other hand, those who live lives contrary to God's design can't expect Christians to ignore the teachings of God, because we believe that in them is found Life.

But see, already that takes a lot of work, a lot of nuance, a lot of discussion and adjustment and patience and willingness to love people who don't agree with us. . .

and that never makes for good press coverage, does it?

Friday Random 10

Must be the depressing version. Agony, tragedy, starvation in Africa, breakups, unresolved anger. . .at least the bonus track takes us to that beautiful eschatological vision of Christ's final redemption of all our pain.

#1 is from a collection of various artists remaking U2 songs. This is one of only two tracks on the album that I find actually make it work. #4 takes me back to boring days attempting to survive as a sales clerk in a Christian retail store in Southern California. #5 has some of the funniest lyrics written on the issue of male hubris. And speaking of #3 - I've been emailing with one of the members of Union Station about possibly coming up here and doing a concert in Lakebay. It's a long shot, but we'll see. . .

1. Chris Tomlin - Where the Streets Have No Name, from "In the Name of Love - Artists United for Africa"
2. St. Olaf Choir - Let us Talents and Tongues Employ, from "Great Hymns of Faith"
3. Alison Krauss and Union Station - Doesn't Have To Be This Way, from "Lonely Runs Both Ways"
4. Susan Ashton - Grand Canyon - from "Angels of Mercy"
5. Various - Agony, from "Into the Woods - the Original Soundtrack"
6. Sarah Masen - Grains of Sand, from "Carry Us Through"
7. David Crowder Band - B Part: A Beautiful Collision - from "A Collision"
8. Emmylou Harris - Tragedy, from "Red Dirt Girl"
9. Jill Paquette - One of These Days, - from "Jill Paquette"
10. Dixie Chicks - Not Ready to Make Nice, from "Taking the Long Way

Bonus Track: Matt Redman - Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble, from "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever, Disc 1"

Thursday, March 13, 2008


- The Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll may go up another $1 in July. Somehow $1.75 just doesn't seem like much to pay for our Trader Joes run. But $2.75 each time starts to feel like a bigger hit on the monthly budget.

- Speaking of which, we just got the bill for last month's heating oil refill. For the first time, it was over $3 per gallon. Makes me even more thankful for all the free firewood we got last year. But. . .it's time to look into replacing the 1960s vintage furnace in the basement. Maybe with a heat pump?

- Robert L. Jamieson has on article on the Rev. Ken Hutcherson in this morning's Seattle P-I. Jamieson works hard at being the P-I's social conscience, and today is taking aim at the anti-gay activism and teaching that Hutcherson encourages in his church. Here's the problem. There is no simple answer to this issue. First, you have to decide what the Bible truly says on the issue, which is no easy task, if you want to do it honestly. Then, you have to decide what your own response will be, especially in light of all that the Bible says about so many other things. Will you actively try to denounce homosexuality? Or will you choose to love homosexuals as people, letting God do his work in their life (that's all assuming you agree that the Bible does, in fact, teach that it is a sin, a position which not every Christian agrees)? And if you choose to work "against" homosexuality, then will you give the same passion to pursuing all the other issues the about which the Bible speaks so clearly? Will you treat divorced people and lazy people and dishonest people the same way? Finally, you have to decide what the role of the Church is in our society. Should we be about passing laws and forcing companies to act "christianly?" Or should we be on the streets ministering to broken people no matter their condition or position?

And that takes a lot of energy, a lot of thought, a lot of nuance, a lot of patience and discussion.

Unfortunately, Jamieson never brings that kind of deep thought into his articles, instead given to cheap shallow rhetoric ("Whatever happened to Jesus' call for compassion, tolerance and humility in faith?"), and Hutcherson doesn't seem to bring that kind of deep thought to his preaching or his political involvement.

Which probably is simply a reflection of where society is at in general. Don't make me think when I can explain my position with a bumper sticker. And don't try to confuse my shallow belief system with all your details. . .

- By the way, take most of what I just said and place it over the Geraldine Ferarro controversy. It's pretty much the same story. People who attempt to make sweeping statements overgeneralize and end up eating their own feet.

- In no way connected to the previous items. . .Our friends down the road at Vaughn Community Church have changed their name, as they are in the midst of changing locations. They are now officially Waypoint Church. You might remember their building burned down two years ago. They are now waiting for the county to finally decide to let them begin construction at their new location along the Key Peninsula Highway.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


From our recent trip, on which we had the opportunity to hang out with some old friends. . .

Hanging out with Scottie, Betsy, and Kirk on some street in Berkeley

Scottie and me in a coffee shop across the street from Scottie's apartment

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Comments on a San Francisco Trip

- Spring is by far the best time to visit the Bay Area. Trees in full blossom, the hills still covered in green, the days warm and sunny. All in all, a lovely place to be.

- The car rental agency upgraded us to a Toyota Prius Hybrid. We drove it for 3 days. In that time we: drove from San Jose to Redwood City (to drop Ron off); from Redwood City to Berkeley (via the San Mateo Bridge); from Berkeley into and around San Francisco, from SF to (and around) Oakland, from Oakland back to SF, from SF back to Berkeley; from Berkeley over to Concord and down to Walnut Creek and back to Berkeley, then over to (and around) San Francisco, and from SF back to Berkeley; then from Berkeley back to San Jose. Just before dropping the car off I filled it up. With all that driving, we used 6.5 gallons of gas. It probably saved us $100 in fuel costs.

- We went out to dinner on Thursday night with Kirk and Betsy and Scottie, former students and friends from Turlock. I asked Betsy for her Top-5 reasons she's glad to be a student at U.C. Berkeley. #1 was "the people living in the trees." Apparently, at Cal, if you want to protest something, you climb up into a tree. The school comes along and puts a fence around the tree, leaving you up there. One group has been living in the trees over by the football stadium for more than a year. Only in Berkeley. . .which is why it's such an interesting place.

- In 1998 or 1999, I led a group from our Gresham Church on an inner-city mission trip to San Francisco with YWAM. One day we went to a daycamp at a church and played with the kids, to give the regular workers a break. Last Thursday, we drove into SF to do our mission pre-visit with the folks at the Center for Student Missions. Their offices are at 1st Baptist Church. Which, as it turns out, is the same place that daycamp was held at. Fun connections.

- I was struck on this trip by the level of noise, both aural and visual. A couple times we were driving through the heart of San Francisco, looking for restaurants/coffee shops/clothing stores/places to park, and for the first time I realized just how much the brain has to filter, from thousands of cars and tens of thousands of pedestrians, to all the street signs and store signs and advertisements and political signs, to streetcars and buses - I think I had to deal with more information in 10 seconds than I usually deal with driving all the way from Lakebay to Gig Harbor and beyond. No wonder country people are more relaxed people.

- Still, I'm excited about our summer ministry trip to San Francisco. Before, it was theoretical. Now, I've been onsite and it's becoming real. I can't wait to get back down there for a week.

- Oh, and one final note. We shared the flight home with part of the the Washington State University Band, who were in town for the Pac-10 Women's Tournament (the rest of the band was in Pullman for the WSU-UW men's game). It was like old times, being a former band geek myself. Except we also shared the plane with part of the Washington State University Cheerleading Squad. Let's just say it was fun, from a sociological perspective, to watch them wander through the airport, to watch them walking up and down the plane aisle, and, mostly, to watch how everybody else reacted to them. And it was a little sad to see just how much Paris Hilton has influenced that culture. The clothing, the makeup, the posture, the hair - you could tell who they looked to for guidance.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hildi Johnson Memorial

A memorial service for Hildi Johnson, 25, of Lakebay, Washington, will be held Friday, March 7, 11:00 a.m. at Lakebay Community Church. Stuart Curry, Director of Camp Woodworth, will preside. A meal and time of fellowship will follow the service.

Peace to her memory.

News Flash! News Flash!

God didn't actually speak to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The ten commandments and all that - that was just because, get this. . .Moses was high on drugs?

Some people just like to get their name in the news, and all it takes is one sensationalized "announcement."

Perhaps the telling point of the article is the researcher's confession that he understands about the drugs, since he's used them "about 160 times in various locales and contexts." So who's the one with the drug problem?

More Travels

I'm heading out for San Francisco tomorrow, for the pre-visit for our summer mission trip. Most likely, I won't be blogging until I get back. Just so you don't think I've abandoned you.


WorshipTogether is giving away free music for Easter. You can download the .mp3 of the song "The Power of the Cross," by Keith and Kristyn Getty, and the sheet music to four Easter Songs - "The Power of the Cross," "Crimson Stream," "How Deep the Father's Love For Us," and "See What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn)."

Note: you must register with WorshipTogether to take advantage of this opportunity.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Death on a Saturday afternoon

Last month, if you recall, I had the privilege of leading the memorial service for Edyth Johnson, a longtime member of our community. A few days before that memorial, I met with the family - the two sons, a daughter and her husband, and a granddaughter, Hildi.

While the kids did most of the talking, Hildi shared some of the more poignant stories, stories of visits to grandma in the weeks before she died. During our visit, Hildi didn't say much. But what she said was deeply moving, revealing a tender heart that was deeply in pain over the loss of a beloved grandmother.

Yesterday, the highway was closed just past our house and the church, due to a fatal accident. Like most people, our immediate reaction was "hope it wasn't somebody we know." Which is instantly followed by a guilty feeling, not wishing to hope that tragedy on anybody else.

This morning's paper revealed the answer. Hildi Johnson crossed the center line on the highway, struck a pickup head-on, and died at the scene. She was only 25. Much too young, much to sweet. She had too much remaining to say to the world.

This family will soon be saying goodbye to another. Pray for them, if you have the chance.